For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other. (Galatians 5:16)

Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. Surely you have heard this statement before. Religion uses fear to motivate and manipulate people to good behavior. Christianity, on the other hand, is found through a relationship with Jesus and does not use fear to motivate good behavior. At least not gospel-centered, Christ-centered Christianity. Unfortunately, there are many Christians today who mistakenly use the law and fear to motivate others to try harder and be gooder. But that’s just wrong. Because Christianity is not ultimately about you. It is about Christ. It is not about what you need to do, it is about what he done did. Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus. Religion does not have the power to change you. A relationship, on the other hand, with the God of the universe, will.


Let me tell you what Jesus offers in that relationship. Jesus offers freedom. In fact, we learned last week in Galatians 5:1 that it was for freedom that Christ has given us freedom. Freedom is the beginning and the end of our relationship with him. He wants you to be free. Jesus said, “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.” So, today, we must start with the premise of freedom as we continue to look at Galatians 5:16-20.


Here is a brief recap of all that we have covered so far in this series. Its all about freedom. We learned through 4 chapters that Jesus has set us free primarily from 2 things. The law and sin. The law and sin are both works of the flesh. The law exists because of sin and sin exist because of the law. Because i would know what sin is except for the law. The law fuels our desire to reverse engineer God’s promise of righteousness by trying to achieve that in our own flesh. By controlling and managing our flesh. And we always fail. So Jesus set us free from both sin and the law. But Jesus didn’t just set us free from something, he also set us free to something. What shall we do with this freedom? Last week we learned that Jesus has set us free to righteousness (which is something that is yet future that we hope for) and he has set us free to love and serve others. These are accomplished through the Holy Spirit.






acts vs fruit


Now, as we look at the remaining part of chapter 5, Paul is going to fill in some examples of the works of the flesh and reveal the fruit of the spirit. But, before we get to that list, Paul tells us that there is a battle raging inside of each of us. We might call it the battle of desires.


The battle of desires

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)


Paul has just described your life. Hasn’t he? Isn’t that exactly how you feel? Don’t you feel like there is a constant battle going on inside of you. You have some desires that are selfish or impure and they are competing with other desires to be selfless and pure. And, this battle is raging inside of you so strongly that you frequently are unable to do the things that you would like to do. You want to be good. You are trying harder to be gooder, but then there is this inner fight that often gets so messy that you actually end up do things that you don’t want to do. Have your ever had one of those moments where you wanted to say, “That was not me! I have no idea why I said that or did that. I have never done anything like that before and I can’t even believe I actually did it.”?  Paul actually says it a little clearer in the book of Romans.


For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15-19)


The first thing these verses should give you is comfort. Don’t you find it comforting that the Apostle Paul has the same experience as you? I find this very comforting. I am so glad that he has explained it with such vulnerability. He sounds like a guy who gets it. I like him. But the second thing these verses might give you is discouragement. You might wonder, “Well then what are we supposed to do?” And that would be a mistake. You see the point is that you can’t do anything because every time you try – you fail. It is our doing that gets us into trouble in the first place. Even when we try to do good, Paul says, we don’t have the ability to carry it out.


“The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”


Notice verse 18, Paul says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” This is a key verse and a very helpful statement. It shows that we do not get there by works. If we have covered anything in this series it is that most of us in the church actually believe the opposite. We have been taught and consciously believe that a life lived by the Spirit actually means a live that is obsessed with the law. The Spirit lead life is a law obeying life. Spiritual maturity, or life in step with the spirit, means being gooder, trying harder, and stop sinning!


But Paul just said that if you are lead by the Spirit you are NOT under the law. Please don’t miss this. Don’t you see? The law is still in perspective here. Paul says he wants us to walk in the Spirit not under the law. It seems as if he’s mixing his metaphors. Why doesn’t he say, “Walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh.”? It seems like he’s mixing his metaphors – but he’s not. The works of the flesh and the works of the law are parallel to one another. Paul has not forgotten all that he has said in the past 4.5 chapters. He did not spill all that ink to beat up the law only to now say, “But you still need to try harder.” No, he is still saying the opposite. Let me explain.





Verse 17: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh. The first thing we see is that the flesh has desires.


Literally, epithumia means an “over-desire”, an “inordinate desire”; an all-controlling drive and longing. This is crucial. Our problem is not so much desires for bad things, but our over-desires for good things.” Timothy Keller


So I need you to hear this. It is far too easy to simply think that sin is bad and therefore you need to manage it. “I need to stop lusting, stop being greedy, stop being selfish.” That is an over simplification of our problem. It is far more complicated than that. In fact, your desire to be done with sin is a good thing. Sure you should want to sin less. But managing that sin in your own flesh will not work. We see this even more clearly in the Romans passage.


Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good… For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want… (Romans 7:15-19)


You see, Paul is not simply talking about sin, he is talking about wanting to obey the law. He wants to do good, but can’t. It’s not just that he can’t stop sinning, its that he can’t seem to do the good laws that he wants to do. So you see, works of the law, or trying to stop sinning, just doesn’t work.


Every sin is rooted in the inordinate lust for something which comes because we are trusting in that thing rather than in Christ for our righteousness or salvation. We sin because we are looking to something else to give us what only Jesus can give us. Timothy Keller


If we were going to keep in context all that Paul has been saying in this book, it would be most appropriate to think of this inner battle in terms of belief vs unbelief (or faith vs works). Unbelief is the sin under all sins. As soon as you start to waiver in your faith, you seek to try harder in your flesh but fail. This is why Paul opens this chapter by saying stand firm therefore in the Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone Gospel. We must stand firm on the gospel because once we try to work it out in our own flesh we fail.


“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands” Martin Luther


“Christians are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief.” John Calvin


“Temptation has more to do with belief than it does with behavior. Every temptation to sin is at its root a temptation to disbelieve the Gospel.”  Tchividjian


So… Lets pause a moment and think about what that means for you. What are your over desires? How are those over desires rooted in unbelief? There is probably some deep physiological stuff going on inside if you. You want this thing, so badly, and that want is rooted, it comes from, your inability to trust Jesus. Adam and Eve wasn’t lusting after an apple – give me a break. What were they lusting after. Control, power, wisdom. The serpent tricked them into believing that God was holding out on them. That there was more to be had and that they had to reach out and take it themselves. “This apple represents what you don’t have because God wont give it to you. Take it!


What is your over desire? I’m certain you don’t even have to think to hard about it. What is the thing that you are always worrying about. You don’t really believe that God will provide. What is it your addicted to? You don’t believe that Jesus satisfies – or can deal with the thing that you are running and hiding from.



How will seeing your sin & temptation as an over desire for good things and as unbelief in the gospel change the way you address that sin in your life?




Look at verse 17 again. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh. You see the Spirit has desires too. Your flesh has desires. Some of them are good, like wanting to be better, and some of them are bad like wanting to loose control and get drunk, and those desires, whether good or bad, are against the desires of the Spirit. That’s a capitol “S”. So we are talking about the Holy Spirit. Do you know what the desires if the Holy Spirit are?


When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak… He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)


Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit will come into the world to “glorify me”. The Holy Spirit lives in you to take what is Christ’s and declare it to you. The Spirit’s soul purpose is to point you to Jesus. “Look at Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus – the author and finisher of your faith.” You might remember at the beginning of this chapter where the Spirit gives us the ability to wait for the righteousness that Jesus will give us.”


For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:5)


The Spirit takes what is Jesus’ and declares it to you. The Spirit preaches the Gospel to you. The desire of the Spirit is to point you to Jesus. The desire of your flesh is to seek salvation from some other place. The antidote to unbelief is a constant and fresh re-telling of the gospel everyday. Luther said we must preach the gospel to ourselves. Jerry Bridges in his book The Discipline of Grace explains how this works.


To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you. 


To preach the gospel to yourself means that you take at face value the precious words of Romans 4:7-8: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”


It means that you believe on the testimony of God that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). It means you believe that “Christ redeemed [you] from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for [you], for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’ ” (Galatians 3:13). It means you believe He forgave you all your sins (Colossians 2:13) and now “[presents you] holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22).


Turning to the Old Testament, to preach the gospel to yourself means that you appropriate by faith the words of Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”


It means that you dwell upon the promise that God has removed your transgressions from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), that He has blotted out your transgressions and remembers your sin no more (Isaiah 43:25). But it means you realize that all these wonderful promises of forgiveness are based upon the atoning death of Jesus Christ.



Here is the 60 second review. All Christians have inside of them a battle between two forces. One force Paul calls the over-desires of our flesh. The other force is the desire of the Holy Spirit. Our flesh desires good things and bad things but we can not accomplish what we want because our flesh wrestles against the desire of the Spirit. The desire of the Spirit is to point us to Jesus. Paul exhorts us to walk in the spirit, not the law.


Or, I could give a 10 second version. The 10 second version might sound like this. “I must decrease. He must increase.” (Jn. 30:30)


I must decrease. He must increase

You see how paradoxical this is. It’s un-natural. We naturally want to progress in our strength. These verses are teaching us that we don’t do that.  Instead we simply trust in Jesus. We wait for Jesus. It seems counter intuitive to say that the trick of the Christian life is not to try harder but to cease from trying.  But that what this is saying.


Most Christians and a lot if Christian teaching seem to suggest that the key to Christian living is to grow stronger as a Christian. The goal is to get your sea-legs… or your ‘Christian-legs’. You start your Christian life as a baby, in a crawl. But as you grow you are able to walk and one day – run. And though that illustration can be true, the implication of the illustration is wrong.


The implication is that the stronger you get the better and better you become and therefore the less and less you need Jesus. Now, nobody ever says it like that. But that is the implication. It’s the problem of thinking of  the Gospel as the ABC’s of Christianity. It is not the ABC’s it is the A-Z’s. You never out grow the Gospel – and the Gospel, I’ll remind you is not about you and what you need to do, it is about Jesus and what he done did.


In 1 Peter 1:10-13 the gospel is stunningly described as something that “even angels long to look into.” After all these centuries, wouldn’t the angels have the gospel down pat? Why would they love to look into the salvation of God? Because it is endlessly rich. There are endless implications, applications, and facets to it. We have just begun to scratch the surface. Timothy Keller


The key to the Christian life is “I must decrease. He must increase.” It’s not me increasing in strength. It is he increasing in my affections. This means that maturity is not growing stronger, but recognizing how weak you truly are. The young arrogant teenage Christian thinks, “I’ve got this”, but the wise silver haired man of faith falls on his knees in total dependence on Christ because he has learned through the school of hard knocks that he ain’t “got this.” The trick is not works of your flesh, the trick is fruit of the Spirit. It is not working, it is submitting to the lead of the Spirit who always points you to Jesus and his Gospel.



Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. Religion uses fear to motivate and manipulate people to good behavior and change. It does not work. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus. And if you have a relationship with the God of the Universe, you will change. Do you have a relationship with Jesus. Or is your Christianity a religion? Are you trying to change, or are you looking to Jesus. Are you trying to stop sinning, or are you looking to Jesus. Are your eyes on yourself, or are your eyes on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Here is a wonderful story of what happens when we keep are eyes on Jesus.


“The point of the lord’s supper is to make Jesus real. You get something in your hands. You get something to feel. Something to drink. It is a way of saying, “Oh Lord be real to me because that’s my whole problem.” I need the truth of Jesus Christ to become so real to me that he changes me.” (Borrowed from Tim Keller)